April 15, 2024

Brad Pitt’s Rule-Breaking Gambit: How He Landed the Role in ‘The Assassination of Jesse James

Brad Pitt is known for being selective when it comes to choosing roles. Throughout his career, he has followed certain guidelines that help him decide which projects to take on. However, when the opportunity came along to play the legendary outlaw Jesse James in the 2007 film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Pitt threw caution to the wind and broke several of his own long-held rules.

As a huge Brad Pitt fan, I was fascinated when I learned how he bent and broke his personal policies to land the Jesse James role. This was a passion project for him and it shows in his nuanced, gritty portrayal of the complicated bandit. By analyzing Pitt’s rule-breaking choices, we gain insight into how determined he was to bring this role to life.

Rule #1 – No Westerns Early in his career, Pitt established that he had no interest in doing a Western film. At the time, he felt the genre was overdone and lacking in fresh ideas. When playing Jesse James first came up, he was hesitant to even consider it due to his ban on Westerns. However, the script’s new take on James as a brooding, tormented figure compelled Pitt to make an exception. He realized that the genre conventions could serve the story’s darker themes. Breaking his own rule ended up being incredibly rewarding, as Pitt unleashed a career-best performance.

Rule #2 – No real-life characters Another guideline Pitt had followed for years was a refusal to depict real-life figures. He preferred the creative freedom of fictional roles. Portraying living or historical people came with pressures he wished to avoid. There were expectations to capture the person’s voice, physicality and spirit. However, Jesse James’ complex persona motivated Pitt to go against this rule too. He was energized by the challenge of anchoring the enigmatic gunslinger to psychological truth. Pitt plunged into research to fully inhabit James’ mindset and motivations.

Rule #3 – No repeats with directors Pitt also tends to avoid working with the same director more than once. Even with favorites like David Fincher and Guy Ritchie, he’s always done just one solitary film. Pitt feels repeating collaborations can become stale or too safe. Nonetheless, he broke this rule with Andrew Dominik after their first teaming on The Assassination of Jesse James. Pitt was so thrilled by how that film turned out, he couldn’t resist reuniting with Dominik. Their follow-up project, the 2012 crime drama Killing Them Softly, gave Pitt another stellar character in a completely different world.

Rule #4 – No production credits Unlike peers such as George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio, Pitt had long spurned opportunities to produce his own projects. He preferred to focus solely on the acting rather than be involved with logistics behind the camera. However, Pitt saw Jesse James as a passion project that called for him to take a more active role. He signed on as a producer, helping guide creative decisions to match his vision for the film. It was fulfilling for Pitt to have story input while also inhabiting the demanding title character.

Rule #5 – No lengthy productions Over the years, Pitt developed a rule to avoid shooting schedules that went over three months. He found that excessively long productions drained him and made the experience less enjoyable. However, Jesse James required a significantly greater time investment. With all the action sequences, costume changes, locations and more, the intricate Western had a demanding five-month filming schedule. Pitt understood that this sprawling story could not be rushed. The final product and acclaim made the extended production worthwhile.

Rule #6 – No intimidating co-stars As one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Pitt held sway to steer clear of co-stars who seemed too flashy ordomineering. He feared being outshined on screen. But when up-and-comer Casey Affleck was cast as Robert Ford, Pitt did not veto the choice even though Affleck’s performance promised to challenge his own. As expected, Affleck delivered a magnetic turn that earned him an Oscar nod. Yet Pitt still stands out in every scene as the legendary Jesse James.

Rule #7 – No violence for violence’s sake Pitt has been vocal about avoiding films where visceral violence is glorified rather than purposeful to the story. Jesse James presented some concerns in this regard. To play an outlaw required depicting robberies and shootouts. However, Pitt did not feel the violence was gratuitous. The tense action sequences centered on the consequences for James and his gang rather than cheap thrills. Pitt made sure to emphasize James’ inner conflict in these scenes.

Rule #8 – No lengthy rehearsals Having honed his acting approach over the years, Pitt grew accustomed to minimal rehearsal before the camera rolled. He preferred to tap into the natural energy of responding in the moment. For Jesse James, however, he adapted to director Andrew Dominik’s preference for extensive rehearsals. Pitt spent weeks thoroughly workshopping scenes with Dominik and his co-stars. This allowed Pitt to completely immerse himself in James’ headspace. The advantages showed in his subtly expressive performance.

By breaking his rules and going against type for Jesse James, Brad Pitt showed his dedication to the craft of acting. The film marked a high point in his illustrious career. Though he followed his instincts in this case, Pitt’s general guidelines have served him well over the years. His choosiness and caution have contributed to his standing as one of the most respected actors in Hollywood. But Jesse James stands out as a reminder that sometimes rules are made to be broken. Pitt took a risk, and it paid off beautifully. His rule-breaking gamble gave us one of the most compelling Westerns of the 21st century.

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